Why the ‘B’ in ‘Black’ Is Capitalized at DiversityInc

Question:Ask the White Guy Luke Visconti
Could you explain why the “b” in “black Americans” is not capitalized? I’ve noticed that other ethnic groups all are capitalized. But not Black people. Why is this?

Answer:
Most mainstream print publications in the United States use what is known as “AP style,” or the style dictated by The Associated Press Stylebook. This book and web site describe what to capitalize and what not to capitalize (among other rules of grammar).

I made the decision not to follow AP style in the case of “Black” and “white” when it applies to describing people in 2009. AP style is to capitalize neither; however, terms such as African American, Negro, Caucasian, Italian American or Asian are all capitalized.

Regardless of whether there is adequate representation among the decision makers at the AP, I felt DiversityInc needed to be more accurate.

The word “Black” is used around the world to describe people who have “racial” features indicating African ancestry. Please keep in mind that the convention of race has been discarded by science–genetically, we are all one race, and the human-genome project proves we are all from Africa.

“Black” is also accepted by many Black people as an inoffensive description. It is a generalized description and can be supplemented by another description such as Black Canadian, Black African American, Nigerian American or Black Latino. However, many Black people describe themselves simply as being “Black,” and this reality is reflected in a body of literature, music and academic study.

I do not believe “white” needs to be capitalized because people in the white majority don’t think of themselves in that way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this–it’s just how it is. The exception is white supremacists who have a definite vision for what “White” means –  and they capitalize the W.

Most American white people describe themselves in terms such as Irish American or Jewish. I will make the point that African Americans (descendents of slaves) cannot define themselves more accurately than an entire continent because their ancestry was obliterated by the practices of enslavers, which included breaking apart tribal and family bonds.

I don’t think there will ever be a time in our country where “white” becomes “White.” Nor do I think white people will accept the term “minority” when we become less than 50 percent of our population by roughly 2045. I think that’s a good thing–people should be allowed to describe themselves, not have descriptions forced on them. I also think that the term “minority” is a pejorative and has no place in describing people.

Our capitalization of “Black” is both a reflection of reality and of respect. Opinions will differ on this, but as long as I make the decisions on editorial policy and content at DiversityInc, this is how this publication will write “Black” and “white.”

Luke Visconti’s column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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85 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Ahh,the acid and hate-filled racism of the “anti-racists.”

    It is amusing to see the rhetorical pretzel the author twists himself into to explain this openly-discriminatory practice.

    • It’s even more educational to explain concepts of white privilege and why a person, of any color or ethnic background, could still express ignorance with such sheer delight as demonstrated by your comment. There is nothing funny about taking a stand in the face of long-standing oppression and hate. Kudos Mr. Visconti and Diversity Inc. for taking a bold first step that will, no doubt, lead to a continued dialogue on a very poignant topic.

      • Is the “white privilege” fable what you cling to at night to console yourself with what a nobody loser you are?

        “The reason I’m not as rich as Mitt Romney is because white people are secretly conspiring, in cigar smoke-filled rooms, to hold me back!”

        • Luke Visconti

          Considering your email and IP address, it looks like they held you back too. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Anonymous

    I am concluding my thesis on neighborhood racial diversity and wealth inequality, and I have been trying to find a reasonable use of the titles “black” and “white.” The study also has the pan-ethnic groups of Asian and Hispanic, which are all limited as such by the census survey. Asians and Hispanics are just as likely to, as you say, “describe themselves in more defined terms” especially since Japanese and Koreans have very little in common with Filipinos and Indians….etc.

    For this reason I have “upgraded” the lower case of “white” and “black” since we use them to do the exact same thing when we classify someone as “Asian” or “Hispanic.” They are all broad categories and no group should be shown more “respect” through capitalization than another.

    I am confused at why you think Whites deserve special treatment to not be capitalized because they are not really tangible group. No group is tangible, the diversity within is so great. In fact, in terms of demographic data (wealth, income, housing, etc etc etc), Whites tend to be the most similar to each-other out of all the groups (Asians being least similar). I think the poster before me touched on it. Only Whites can choose whether or not to be placed in a categorical context. By keeping Whites as lower-case and the others not, it really exposes that power of “we’ll we’re not the same but you all are.”

  • Anonymous

    Capitalize names of races (African American, Caucasian, Asian, Native American), but do not capitalize “black” or “white” when referring to race.

    • Johny Gwuen

      European American, not Caucasian. Outdated term. Thanks.

      • As a white woman, I also find “Caucasian” unacceptable as a term for white people. It is based on a non-scientific and racist fiction from the 19th century that claims white people descended from a select group in the Caucasus Mountains. As a theory, it is outmoded indeed in every sense. Perhaps it always was. I don’t want to be identified with any aspect of it, thanks!

  • I totally agree with you–this is a pretzel twist of an explanation. But isn’t that what diversity training and management is all about. Why do we need diversity training–how about humanity training. Teach people to see each other’s commonalities. Instead diversity training presupposes that there are white people and then there are diverse people. True diversity does not need something to define itself in opposition to. Liberal whites kill me, The reality is you benefit from a biased system from the start. Then suddenly you decide to monetize what u c as a deficiency by unleashing diversity management on the unsuspecting world and expect “diverse” people to be grateful that you capitalize the B in black and give a few bucks to some quote unquote “minority” organizations. Gimme a break. Jan

  • I am a Black man and I agree with Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc, on his decision to capitalize the word Black when referring to Black Americans. Most white Americans must realize that Black people have been labeled different names throughout our enslavement. Although, our history DID NOT begin with slavery (we were enslaved), but we have gone from being called, boy, n-word, colored, negro, Afro Americans, African Americans, Black and now minorities.

    I refuse to be labeled a minority because a minority is a code word which means MINOR. We all know that a minor is not yet a man or woman; they are still considered children, not adults. Therefore, this word has nothing to do with a race people. It is used to classify Black American adults as children.

    The very word America is a code word for white people. When a Black man commits a crime, his picture is all over the media. A perfect example is the Nigerian man who had explosives on a plane that was landing at Detroit Metro Airport (December 26, 2010). His picture was all over the news media. But, the drunk white male who was trying to open up a door while a plane was in flight was labeled a ‘man’ (February 18, 2010). The captioned read, “man tries to open plane door while in flight.”

    This was also an act of terrorism because lives could have been lost if he had succeeded to open that door. A terrorist is a person that commits bodily harm or injury to another human being. But, he was labeled a ‘man’ and his picture or his name was not shown on television, like the Nigerian’s picture that was captured at Detroit Metro Airport. Since this incident, this ‘man’ that tried to open up the door on that plane has been released with no charges!

    Another incident that happened in Texas where a ‘man’ crashed his plane into an IRS building (February 18, 2010). He was not labeled a terrorist, but was called furious and angry! Tim McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma (April 19, 1995). He was not labeled a terrorist, but was only called a ‘serial killer.’ His headline captioned read, “man blows up federal building.”

    These are just a few examples how the code word ‘man’ is used to describe white males that commit terrorist crimes. If they were Black, they would have been called terrorists immediately and no excuses would have been made for their violent, terrorist acts.

    If we are all Americans why is the word Black used, without adding American? Why aren’t white Americans labeled European Americans, especially since they usurped the land from the original Black Native American Indians? These Europeans came from England to kill and slaughter the original Black Amerindians who were the first people that inhabited North and South America? You don’t call Asian Americans that are citizens of America just Asians. You don’t call Japanese Americans that are citizens of America just Japanese, and you don’t call Mexican Americans that are citizens of America just Mexicans; then why are Black Americans just labeled as Black? Aren’t we citizens of America also?

    By capitalizing the word Black means authority. What color are the robes of the u.s. judges? What color is the motorcade of President Obama? What color are the robes of most graduates and clegry…BLACK! This word should be capitalized because it refers to a race family that birthed the world. You even stated that humanity began in Africa, therefore EVERYBODY came from the Black race.

    Finally, I feel if white America has a problem with this word being capitalized, they should go back to the bible and see how the word lucifer is capitalized throughout this book. If a devil can have his name capitalized, why not the word Black?

    Food for thought this BLACK history month from a future writer. Please reply and hope Jan is reading this.

    • YOUR A DOUCHE

    • Johny Gwuen

      Why aren’t white Americans labeled European Americans?

      I have a much different reason why, but oyu wouldn’t buy it. But I am a European American. Thanks.

      • Luke Visconti

        It’s an imprecise term. People who immigrated from Europe know which country their ancestors come from. I’ve seen European-American used by White Supremacists, however. You’re not one of those, are you? Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • This article blatantly shows the disrespect and distain the the multi-culturalist have for white Americans. Amazing that Black and white is ok but black and White is not.
    Try this on for size…black and white, Black and White. white and black, White and Black. Funny how those who sell “sensitivity” are the least sensitive. You are blind to your own bigotry.

  • I’m the last person to suggest that language and social beliefs/policy are not related, but isn’t there a place for cold logic on occasion when coming grammatical decisions that make sense and are easily understood and followed? These are both words used to (for better or worse) categorize and define a group of people by the end the monochromatic spectrum to which they are nearest. Capitalizing one and not the other may be culturally sensitive but also nonsensical. Our language’s current standards of capitalization call for capitals at the start of sentences and for proper names and a handful of other circumstances. Capitals, outside of textspeak) are generally understood to mean something is specific rather than necessarily important. Capitalization is certainly not guarantee of power or influence. (To the previous commenter: Judges’ robes and limos are black in quite a difference sense from African Americans. I’ve never seen a person the color of a judge’s robe, just as, aside from albinos, I’ve never seen a person the color of a blank piece of paper. Also, Lucifer is capitalized in the Bible because it is the name of an individual, not because that individual is good in any way) Names of groups, unless they are specific or organized groups, are not capitalized. Our society has many, many rules with racist connotations. This is not one of them. If we capitalize black, should we capitalize the other words for ethnic groups based on gross generalizations of the color wheel, such as yellow and red? While admitting that we must fail, let us still strive for objectivity and plainspokenness without prejudice or favor.

    • KatherineP

      Very well said, Anonymous (on 2/25/10). And, near the end, you hit on the exact same point that initially smacked me in the face when listening to Luke’s (and others–such as Toure) explanations on capitalizing “Black” and “white”…That of the outcry that would occur if other such [inane] generalizations were to merit capitalization–i.e. “Red” people (since, of course, though they can claim tribal affiliations that would be capitalized, as a conquered and disrupted nation they deserve a collective classification yada yada yada… and I’m sure the same ‘logic’ could be used for all those (once considered) a “Yellow” hue, or the varying ‘types’ of “Brown”*) I’m still surprised that the term “Black” is even acceptable today, but until people decide on a BETTER misnomer, treat it with the adjectative status it deserves.

      In fact, I think you’ve MADE the argument for how language and social beliefs/policy ARE related and how desperately we must treat them WITHIN THESE CURRENT CONSTRAINTS until better terms are universally accepted.

      *b/c depending on what region of the US (or UK/Europe) you’re in the pockets of racism think of Brown as South & Central [Hispanic] American or Middle Eastern or Indian (Eastern Asian Indian that is) Argh! just writing this all out makes me ill!

  • I so appreciate this discussion and the cultural significance of descriptors. Even though I look “white” because of my skin color, I intentionally refer to myself as Black American. I’m mixed race with my biological father being Black and German and my mother being Polish American. In the late 1950’s, I was adopted as an infant. Back in those days “a drop of colored blood, meant you were “Black.” Hence, I was fortunate enough to be adopted by a Black family since Catholic Charities could not place me with any willing white family. And then, having grown up during the 60’s and early 70’s at the height of the Black Pride and Power Movement, I became even more conscious and sensitive about my decision to proudly refer to myself as Black American.

    Bottom line, if one wants to build trust early on in a cross-cultural relationship, I believe that it helps immensely to be clear on how you choose to describe yourself racially and ethnically to then safely invite someone else to share their cultural background and preferred descriptors.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a senior Human Resource professional, who happens to be Black, and I always capitalize both Black and White when referring to ethnic/racial groups. To capitalize one and not the other is ridiculous and culturally insensitive.

  • John Lindsay

    “do not believe “white” needs to be capitalized because people in the white majority don’t think of themselves in that way.”

    JL: Although I fully understand your point, both “Black” and “White” should be capitalized.

    What about when other groups are referring to “Whites” in an article, essay, etc.?!

    According to the 5th Edition of the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual, which is considered the “bible” on the correct way to use grammar, cite sources, etc., both “Black” and “White” should be capitalized.
    (page 68)

    Two, while “Whites” may not “consciously think” of themselves as “Whites” (except when they’re outnumbered at an event), the system of institutional discrimination could not work very well without a solidified group (Whites).

    Hence, while “Whites” may attempt to define themselves as “being of Irish, Scottish, French, etc., descent,” they need to also recognize “how these groups form the melting pot known as ‘Whiteness.'”
    Several colleges across the nation have classes on “Whiteness,” and that’s indeed an excellent idea.

    I’m glad to see the issue of “capitalization of the word Black” being raised.
    I brought this to the attention of my local paper about 4 years ago, but they refused to capitalize Black.
    Now that you’ve written this article, I will forward it to them.

    Thanks,

    John Lindsay

  • I agree with the writer who writes, “If we are all Americans why is the word Black used, without adding American? Why aren’t white Americans labeled European Americans, especially since they usurped the land from the original Black Native American Indians? These Europeans came from England to kill and slaughter the original Black Amerindians who were the first people that inhabited North and South America? You don’t call Asian Americans that are citizens of America just Asians. You don’t call Japanese Americans that are citizens of America just Japanese, and you don’t call Mexican Americans that are citizens of America just Mexicans; then why are Black Americans just labeled as Black? Aren’t we citizens of America also?”

    I also agree with, “Funny how those who sell “sensitivity” are the least sensitive. You are blind to your own bigotry.
    It appears as if you are, as these writers replied justly enough. Nothing further statements are required.
    American Reader!

  • Anonymous

    It is interesting to read the comments on this article; it seems like the most hateful comments were authored by those who are anonymous. If you feel so strongly about your statements, why are you afraid to take ownership of your words? The point of diversity is being able to take ownership of your perspective and for others to respect you for it. If you are unable respectfully disagree, we will never be able to move forward into a world where everyone is able to reach their maximum potential.

  • I was excited when I saw the headline for this story, since I’ve always thought it appropriate to capitalize the word “Black.” However, I was disappointed in Visconti’s argument against capitalizing “White.” I think the two descriptors should be treated equally. The argument against capitalizing “White” makes little sense to me. While it may be true that Whites think less about (or are less often reminded of) their “Whiteness” than Blacks of their “Blackness,” I do think that Whites commonly think of themselves as White in general. While many Whites are able to trace their ancestry, that ancestry may be quite varied. I’m not going to refer to myself as an Irish-Swedish-German-English–American. I guess I’m a European American, or simply White.

  • Anonymous

    If you must refer to my race, I prefer caucasian. And don’t capitalize it or you will offend me.

  • Anonymous

    This is the perfect example hypocrisy.
    You either need to capitize everyone or no one. To not give the same respect to different groups of people is discrimination. But this joker Luke Visconti is the perfect example of all the animals are equal, except are more equal then others.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Visconti, you truly are the one I would refer to as “chilling” and “ignorant”. I hardly see how someone saying that you should capitalize everyone or no one is “ignorant”. Then again, you left-wingers would be perfectly happy giving someone else the farm and then having them kick you off of it and not share anything with you.

    Your opinions are so far left that I am beginning to wonder if you are just trying to get reactions from people. But it’s truly sad that in this day in age people fall for it. It’s really pitiful to see all the black people comment on this article and say how wonderful it is to capitalize black. As a white guy, I capitalize neither black nor white and will continue to do so.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up in NYC. then transferred to the south with my job of 23 years. I became a second class citizen overnight. I applaud your efforts, but as log as hatred is cheaper than diversity-nothing will improve.

    Thank you and good luck, I’ll pass o your link to anyone it might help.

  • Anonymous

    Like many others, this was an interesting conversation. However, perhaps it is “much ado about nothing”. Capitalize, bold print, or even italicize … better to turn our focus to more actionable items to resolve the issues that divide.

  • Can’t understand what all the fuss is about – we don’t relate to one another as “Black A to White B” or vice versa. We’re just people trying to get along and live in this vast world. The importance of “capitalization” is quite lost on me as irrelevant to the larger ability to discourse with one another. I’m not a lable, a thing, a race, or anything other than a human being. Skin “color” and “race” are visible exteriors – not by any means descriptive of the interior – unless “race” and “color” are what an individual chooses as the all-encompassing description of themselves. Let it go – we have less time than we did yesterday to figure this out.

  • Anonymous

    An excellent example proving that racism and discrimination is alive and well in the world. I think we as a species will only evolve and better ourselves if we treat everyone with respect regardless of race, gender, sex and start putting people with the skills in the right places. So I personally think that both or neither should be capitalised.

  • As an editor, I side with the AP Stylebook. As a Caucasian. I disagree with the statement that most white Americans “identify themselves with more refined terms, such as Irish-American or Jewish.” This is a New York-centric point of view. I am mostly English and German but so far removed that this is not part of my identity. Sorry, Luke. You blew this one.

  • Anonymous

    The significance of a capital is substantive in that you acknowledge the reference as a defined term; in legal contracts the word will only be capitalized when it has been defined.

    I think the point here is that an uncapitalized term has no significance or has not be associated with any specific idea … black shoes, black coat, black market, black balling, black cloud … “blacks?”

    When you use Black referring to people it is ideal to capitalize, in my opinion, because you are acknowledging to some extent that Blacks have been in some way defined as a people. It is not a descriptive term to show you what color they are but to show you what the term in and of itself represents — culture, origin, unity. I would love to have training that deals with just human training (rather than diversity) – but until humanity lives in that ideal, we have to deal with the ugly realty of this post and that is that discrimination exists in all forms — even in something so insignificant as a capital letter. What responses!! Until we reach that ideal, we have to cope with the fact that humanity has not evolved to that level of sophistication where it is no longer necessary to describe people by using their race as a descriptive factor … have you looked at your local news lately?! Until we can just identify people as people, we need to value our differences and recognize the value that variety brings. I applaud the efforts our editor acknowledging that Black is not just a generic, uncultured, unidentifiable, or even worse negative connotation.

    Do we call our leading represented official a president or the President? Do we say the queen or Queen Mother? Acknowledge to some degree in yourself that so long as there is a difference and we remain divisive – identifying someone by race for example – there has to be some level of respect that we show each other no matter how we identify ourselves or how each of us choose to show that respect to our fellow HUMAN beings.

  • To me diversity means to take overcome the obstacles and level the playing field for all. It’s not about emphasizing differences by establishing new barriers – even if they are only one letter high…

  • Anonymous

    Black is capitalized as part of a black nationalist project, in order to assert that black people are one ethnicity (globally) and separate from whites within America. Ethnicities or nations are capitalized, so capitalizing “black” asserts that black is a unified ethnicity. It’s a consciously political act that emphasizes race loyalties. Some who do this also capitalize “white.” Those who take this view may do so, but I certainly feel comfortable writing in accordance with my own politics. Only a minority of black writers use this in any case. For example. the web’s premier African-American site, “The Root,” does not capitalize “black.”

  • Anonymous

    A very easy way to solve all these issues – if we really wanted to instead of describing ourselves (or trying to) would be to put everyone of us into 1 of 7 groups ( 7 continents right) in which case I am a North American, since that is where I was born. as for Japanese, Hawaiians, Cubans etc.. “island born earthlings” well either decide which continent to associate them with or if the islands should be seperate groups it would be 1 step closer to unity of the planet. Every person on this planet has a different heritage, bloodline, culture, mannerisms, ideals, and ideas. But we all share the same goal (save a few), live a good life, find a good partner, raise healthy children, feel safe, and enjoy ourselves. We “whites” sometimes try way to hard to prove we aren’t racists and to do what we think shows respect and end up in a worse situation. Diversity isn’t about makeing it all the same, it is about respecting the differences, but those diffences have nothing to do with race or skin color, they have to do with life experiences, ideals and ideas.
    Just my 2 cents worth.

  • Anonymous

    I can not tell you how much I appreciate this discussion and the decision tro capitalize Black as well as White. As a diversity practitioner I never use the term “Minority” in my training. As long as the mainstream media continues to refer to others as minority, the people will continue to do the same. What truly needs to happen is to train the talking heads to use the correct terms as well.
    To hear people have these discussions is the same as hearing people say thing like…”I want my country back”. The natural question is….want it back from whom ?????. Yes I do know who they want it back from but my question is…..when they get it back…..will they also give it back from whence they got?
    You know, the truth is when we get to Heaven there will be no color or code languege. We shall all be the same and we will all be happy about it.

  • Anonymous

    If capitalizing Black will show respect, I am more than happy to do it. Personally I think we are all part of the human race and don’t even like to answer questions about what mine is.

  • Anonymous

    While I usually agree with Mr. Visconti, I am unpersuaded and perplexed by his somewhat dizzying explanation that capitalizing the “b” in black makes any difference. What direct, meaningful, tangible, positive impact does it have on blacks? How does capitalizing the “b” help blacks compete for the best jobs, the best education opportunities, and meaningful salaries? While I think it is useful to debate such issues in a safe-harbor environment of diversityinc.com, I’ve scratched my head and cannot figure out for the life of me how capitalizing this letter shows “respect,” as Mr. Visconti asserts. Is there any academic authority to support this position? Does this conversely mean that “disrespect” is shown to whites by not capitalizing the “w?” (I’m not suggesting that it should be capitalized)?

  • Toni Johnson

    Right on, my enlightened, white brother. You make sense to me. Yet, I understand why other folk just don’t get it.
    From an highly educated reader, teacher, physician who considers herself to have been born a Negro baby girl, went through puberty as Black or Afro American and now is Black and Latina but really just human after all. Maybe one has to see it from my eyes.

  • Anonymous

    In response to this: “Most white Americans must realize that Black people have been labeled different names throughout our enslavement.”
    First, you are negligent and racist in your capitalizing one and not the other, no matter which is capitalized. We are all humans, and that is that.
    Second, what makes you think whites haven’t also been labeled numerous derogatory names by groups not associating themselves with another group? (eg Irish, German, Russian, Italian, etc etc etc etc etc) Additionally, do not expect American blacks to be referred to as “African American” until you are prepared to refer to American whites as “European American”.
    Last, I understand and fully agree that one human’s enslavement of another is intolerably wrong…hence the reason it was officially outlawed in the USA nearly a century and a half ago; but, to use the phrase “throughout our enslavement”, as though YOU were ever enslaved, is a gross misrepresentation of yourself. Have pride in your ancestry, but don’t use it as a crutch for your present and future. This is a free country and, as such, you are free to educate yourself.

  • Black, White capitalized refers to race. Just as we capitalize other races (Italian, Chinese, etc.) When written with lower case letters, that refers to color, for example, a white shirt, black shoes. I have a light complexion, I am not “black”. I am however “Black”, as in race or ethnicity. Chinese-American is a Chinese person born in America. Italian-American is an Italian person born in America. Therefore, African-American is an African born in America. I am not African, I am an American that happens to be Black, as in race,

  • Anonymous

    Do most white people really think of themselves as “Irish American”, “Italian American”… etc? I thought we were mostly too interwoven with each other at this point to make the distinction. And black people are too – even if slavery had not robbed you of your cultural heritage, I’m sure there is no one whose family has been here since that time who is pure Ethiopian, Nigerian, or otherwise. Black is an acceptable blanket term in my opinion, but white is also. I think many white people do think of themselves as white rather than anything more specific. So if you think it is respectful to capitalize Black should you not also capitalize White?

  • It seems to me that one bit of awareness is missing from many comments here: many Americans, notably European Americans, can chose whether or not they will celebrate their ancestries; by virtue of their ancestral enslavement and deprivation of identity, most Black Americans can not make that choice.

    (And seven continents? As if – exactly who would you describe as “Antarctican”?)

  • Anonymous

    I am human, nothing else matters, we all eat, dress, and do human activities. When you have a diversified group of friends, co-workers, be yourself human. Do not stay in the mode of what other ancestors did, a lot of people died and wanted the same equalities for all humans, it is called history, let us move forward not backwards.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Visconti, would you capitalize Gay? If not, why not?

  • Anonymous

    Out of mere respect for all races, ethnic groups – when referring to such they all should be capitalized… Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Italian Americans, Jewish, etc. The reality is that everyone looks at this issue differently but we are all very much the same.

  • Anonymous

    There is a different between Blacks and African-Americans. Even those who consider themselves either will assert that difference. But, you are correct in capitalizing the word “Black” as it is used to refer to that particular Grouping. Even if just from the standpoint of respect, I commend you on your decission.

  • Anonymous

    To the October 15th poster: Luke would only capitalize “Gay” if he was referring to a Gay Black person. Otherwise, you’re just a gay other…

  • “Anyone who is properly trained knows that white people are part of diversity – diversity is inclusive.” In all due respect Luke, Diversity and Inclusion have two separate definitions. At least, according to the training I have been receiving as the Chairman of our D&I efforts. Diversity is basically the condition of being different; Inclusion is the act of Including or the act of being included, and respecting differences.
    A little tongue-in-cheek here; If we’re all from Africa, shouldn’t we all be called African-Youfillintheblank?

  • The complexity of the comments made–and the sheer number–indicate to me that this should be part of the “Conversation on Race” that we in America need to have–and have not yet had.There are powerful psychological reasons why people of color are best capitalized, given our unfortunate racial history in America. By the same logic, it would not offend me–as a person of color–to see “White” capitalized when referring to people who are Caucasian in derivation. I think doing so expands the notion of “inclusion”, and assigns to White people the same of “identification value”, as the capitalization does for people of color. Lack of recognition of people’s “personhood” has been one of the most damaging aspects of American racism. As one person alluded to in this thread, Black Americans historically never reached the status of “man” or “woman””, and were instead called “boy”, “girl”, auntie”, “uncle”, etc.. I had an aunt who consciously called her nephews “man”, even when they were quite young, to counter the negative implications of the word “boy”. Even in the 1980s in Baton Rouge, LA, I found myself still correcting White men who thought they could call me “boy”: At 6’3″, and 245 pounds, (and fir), I chose–one way or the other, to “differ” with them. My final comment is that this thread points out the amount of animus that exists among us over relatively simple issues of race and identity. It is no wonder that we are so fraught with dissonance and miss-communication…

  • Anonymous

    The article and the quotes that follow show the inconsistent rules, or at least the inconsistent application of a rule, that must be applied to reach the desired end of those that most vehemently support divesity and multiculturalism. They want equality for minorities in both our courts and culture (as they should since that’s correct thing both legally and morally), but they’re also often the same people that go through the “rhetorical pretzel” (as pointed out earlier) so as not to apply the same rules to those among the majority.

    It’s so much easier to craft one rule and apply it equally to all people. That way you end up with equal treatment, and you lessen criticsm that you’re applying different standards based on race or applying the same standard arbitraily. And, oh yeah, the author would have saved himself time in creating and writing an argument to justify his differing application of the existing AP rule.

  • Anonymous

    True story:
    I used to say that black people should be called black, and the politically-correct “African-American” moniker was just overly politically correct. People don’t call me European-American. I’m white. Whites and Blacks.
    I once made this argument and realized I was looking at an Asian. I would never, ever call an Asian “Yellow”… so that was one of those instant realizations that I had a big, gaping hole in my logic.

  • Anonymous

    I applaud your “stylistic disobedience” as a completely appropriate departure from an AP convention that should not apply to ‘Black’ when used as a referent to a racial group. It’s time for a push to get AP to recognize such an exception — plain and simple.

  • Anonymous

    As an African American woman, I have long capitalized the term Black when referring to my people. I have always considered it in good taste and with due respect, to refer to myself or people of African descent with a “big B” rather than a litte b.” To me the term and reference to a Black person, with a capital B, means that one can be from anywhere in the world, but are of African descent. For example, You could be a Black from the continent of Africa, a Black from the Caribbean, a Black from South America or a Black person in the United States. Of course, history says that we are all of African descent, but based on generally acceptable reality, these people are known in my opinion, as Black. And that’s a fact, Jack!

  • Anonymous

    Not capitalizing “White” won’t help White people realize that they, too, are a race. It’s not a respect thing — not capitalizing it for the reasons you cite really only panders to the idea that White people are the tabula rasa in this country. Just because they often can trace their ancestry to specific countries/areas does not mean they identify that way, which I think is what you are suggesting. For instance, when someone is a lot of different kinds of European, they probably won’t identify strongly with any aspect of their roots, but rather as White, which is how people will see them anyway. Some White people who are not White supremacists do have a politicized racial identity; I count anti-racists in this group.

    I hope you read my comment. I think my argument(s) is/are fairly valid.

    Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Growing up and going to school in the South in segregated institutions and divisions, I find people still refer and talk to each other in terms of Black, White, Elders, Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, Gay, Straight, married, divorced, liberal, conservative, crazy…Let’s just respect each other and keep evolving to a higher level. Eventually, the masses will become educated and learn how to treat each other with respect and see the benefit and beauty of being different.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Luke for opening a civil and badly needed discussion of race issues. I like how you make your points even though I may not agree with all of them. I want to respond to this point;
    “I can’t think of a situation where white people must think about being white in this country.”
    I’m constantly reminded of how ashamed I should be for the color I was born as. I find in America and all over youtube I’m constantly finding myself blamed for slavery, discrimination, destroying the earth and subjugating women not because I’m going around doing those things (certainly not intentionally) but simply because I’m White. Here’s an example in this blog;
    “Why aren’t White Americans labeled European Americans, especially since they usurped the land from the original Black Native American Indians? These Europeans came from England to kill and slaughter the original Black Amerindians ”
    If I make an unconditioned negative statement about Black people (which I wouldn’t) it would be racist because I’m saying that statement is true of ALL Black people. Black people are all different and a negative statement might be true for some but certainly not all. It would be insulting those people who don’t fit the description. I’m often frustrated that the same logic does not apply to White people. In the example I showed above the posters statement is unconditioned and therefor applies to all White people. He’s saying you and I and every White person in America came from England to slaughter the original inhabitants. I was born in America and I had no intention of killing anyone while I came out of my mothers womb. The fact that White people are the only race it’s politically correct to make such generalization about is really frustrating. The double standards are a major factor that led me to leave and move to Korea where it’s not a bad thing to be White. I’m grateful to see what some of the other Black posters have said about mutual respect. I would like that. I want to see a country where we can appreciate our differences, but give each other equal respect. I do think the treatment of Black people in the past was horrendous but I don’t think referring to a baby born yesterday to white parents as a murderer is the answer (Yes “White people” includes babies). I’m glad to hear inclusion is meaning everyone. I also hope some day soon it will be considered wrong to stereotype ANY race.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, these are all really thoughful posts and though some are a little bit radical in my opinion it’s great to see intelligent observations and polite argument. That’s pretty rare in my experience.
    To the people who are offended by those saying “Black” shouldn’t be capitalized I think you may have misinterpreted the authors’ intentions. The way I interpreted it was, “Black” should not be capitalized if “White” is not capitalized and vice versa. I think the main point here is that all of the race-ethnicities should be capitalized because they are all equal and deserving of grammatical recognition. Following a different format would only drive a spike between the uncapitalized race-ethnicity and those that were capitalized. =)

  • Anonymous

    I think most Black people refer to themselves as such. As I learned in undergrad from an African-American professor, I am not an African-American because my parents are not directly from Africa, direct descendants, nor did I move here from Africa. He on the other hand had moved from Ghana and now taught at the university. I agree with the author until he states that he does not capitalize whtie. To me they are both terms to describe race and should be treated equally. I rarely hear the term Caucasian, but I here White all the time.

  • Roslyn Satchel

    Several scholars argue “Black” should be capitalized as a proper noun because, similar to Asian and Latino, it denotes a specific cultural group. See, e.g., D. Wendy Greene, Black Women Can’t Have Blonde Hair . . . in the Workplace, 14 J. GEN. RACE & JUST. 405, 405 n. 2 (2011); Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Race, Reform, and Entrenchment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law, 101 HARV. L. REV. 1331, 1332 n. 2 (1988); see also Neil Gotanda, A Critique of “Our Constitution is Colorblind”, 44 STAN. L. REV. 1, 4 (1991). In agreement with these scholars, we use the terms “African American” or “Black” to denote Americans of African descendent.

  • Don’t you think you should credit Toure for some of this information, instead of acting like you came up with it yourself?

    • Luke Visconti

      I’m not familiar with Toure’s work. I looked him up and will probably read some of his books (since it appears that we share some of the same philosophy). Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • I thought not capitalizing “black” was the whole point? My understanding is when the term was first introduced/popularized it was deliberately not capitalized in order to de-emphasize it and make it just a simple descriptive like ‘young’ or ‘scruffy’ or whatever. The point being it IS nothing but a simple descriptive.

    • And my wife’s response, since the black woman has given it much more thought than the white guy:

      except that it wasn’t just a simple descriptive to me. at least not for most of my life. Black was the equivalent of Polish or Jewish or Puerto Rican or whatever. It was all I had to describe what I was. that African American thing came along later and I didn’t relate to it, but accepted it relunctantly as it seemed I didn’t have a choice. But you know when I talk about Black folks, not in a formal like giving-a-presentation kind of way, I say Black folks, not African American folks. and I am not referring to all the folks who can be categorized under the term “Black”- all folks with African features; sometimes I do, but it has to be qualified. Unless I am talking to what my mom calls “regular Black folks” because they know who I am talking about and no qualification is necessary. Maybe it isn’t pc or precise (and I get why such precision is needed in writing), but I let go of being all pc about it in everyday parlance.
      I also recognize that the small b is the goal as race isn’t real and blah blah, but as the writer said, we can’t easily identify with something more specific due to our history- the obliteration of traceable heredity.

      (her disclaimer: on the reference to “regular” black folks. I think it is pejorative, if not intentionally, and I don’t want people thinking I endorse that)

  • How can you hold so much self hatred for yourself? You’re a white man, making an article as to why you would capitalise the word “Black” when referring to black people, but not to white people. Why would you decide to not capitalise when referring to whites? To have one without the other is ridiculous, and I have to ask why you wouldn’t.

    And that speech of “science has discarded race – genetically” is absolute lies – did you just make that up on the spot? There are companies out there willing to give you a blood test which gives a rough estimate of your racial genetic make up.

    You’re going about this anti racism thing very, very wrong.

  • this is how this publication will write “Black” and “white.”

    Okay, you capitalize the b in black out of respect, but the w in white remains lower case.

    Please explain in a rational way how this advances diversity? Think about what you are saying. Blacks are capital. Whites are lower case. I respect Blacks. I do not respect Whites. I think it’s a fair question: Is this sentiment born of self loathing or profit seeking patronization?

    Additionally, do you believe that two wrongs = right? (seriously)

    diversity means variety
    discrimination is unjust treatment based on race or sex.

    Please reconsider or change the name of the site to discriminationinc.

    • Luke Visconti

      Read the column. I explain it fully. In short, the only white people who think of themselves as “white,” whose self-identity is tied up in being white, are white supremacists. Our country’s history—in particular, it’s treatment of African-Americans—has caused Black people to self-identify as Black. White people who become white supremacists make a decision to self-identify as White. Other white people never give it much of a thought (that’s called white privilege); they identify any way they wish—sometimes with their heritage (for example, Italian-American). We at DiversityInc respect that by capitalizing the B in Black.

      You are very busy posting on this site when it clearly doesn¹t agree with you. Would you please get a social life? Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Very interesting and I accept his reasoning. But now I can’t remember if I capitalized White in the report.

    By the way, I don’t describe myself as Jewish, unless I am asked about religious beliefs. And while it is for a different reason, I can’t pinpoint where my ancestors (as in grandparents) came from, since the borders in Eastern Europe have changed repeatedly since they emigrated. There is a persecution history there too.

  • I understand why you choose to capitalize Black but not white, from a perspective of cultural cohesion. I also understand the concept of white privilege. However, I think the strongest case to be made–and the direction I thought you were headed–is that “Black” has essentially become a stand-in for “African American”. Now, technically, I realize why African American can be a flawed term, I tend not to use it myself (after all, we don’t use German American or British American or Russian American in common parlance). But to that end, when referring to Black Americans, there is indeed a connotation of ethnicity. Being white, I feel, is not an ethnicity; it’s just another way to identify someone as being in the majority. Is there a “white” American experience? If there is, I haven’t been a part of it. Maybe if all white Americans came from a single geographic region and somehow managed to retain their culture, or if white culture in America were somehow distinctly separate from America itself, there would be a case for the White ethnicity. But as it stands, I just don’t see it.

    • Luke Visconti

      The “white experience” in this country is being included and dominant in every position of power. It is the comfort of expecting to see people who look like you in roles of authority. It’s almost impossible for white people to feel as excluded as nonwhite people are every day.

      It’s all about skin color because vision is our dominant sense. Geneticists have proven that there is only one human race and that there are no significant differences between what we define as “race.” Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • That’s right, keep the “injustice” train going so you can keep your unimportant day job.

        • Luke Visconti

          Dave, what’s your scary talented day job that you have time to make inane comments on websites you disagree with? Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • I object to being called a European-American. Now, if you called me a “mishmash American” I would have no grounds for objection.

  • Before I retired, I told my predominately African-American students in Detroit that I was game-playing when I capitalized Black and not white. They were free to use Black or black, white or White. I don’t recall any of them caring one way or the other.

  • In Plain Sight

    This is a bit silly. A simple glance at a sheet of paper is all that’s necessary to see there are no white people. Lowercase “white” is a color. Uppercase “White” is a pronoun, the name of something (in this case, an ethnic group). The same goes for “black” and “Black”. When referring to people, both descriptors should be capitalized.

    • Who’s being silly?

      • In Plain Sight

        If you’re suggesting that white people actually exist, that would be you who is being silly, seriously. Surely we would have a picture of such a human being if s/he truly existed.

        Given the biological facts, it strikes me simply as racist to deny those facts and (in defiance of the facts) label entire groups of people by a color that applies to none of them. It’s nonsense.

        Words have meaning. According to the rules of English grammar, we capitalize proper nouns because they are the names of things. Mercedes, not mercedes. Sony television, not sony television. Chinese, not chinese. Arab, not arab. Latino, not latino. Black, not black. White, not white.

        A failure to understand this — to reference groups of people by actual color — has racial implications because seeing Whites as white justifies a segregation from all other people. That’s the entire basis of the racist project and the unwillingness of White people to live on a level playing field with other people, in fear of being “mixed” (<– Just WTH does that actually mean?). The reality is that White people cannot be "mixed" because they already are, just like every other human on the planet.

        Rather than a "racial" category, what White refers to is not a color but an ethnicity, a culture, an upbringing, a heritage. Ditto for Black, Chinese, Arab, Latino/a, and everyone else. Most of those cultures take pride in their heritage, but Whites have had trouble doing that without landing in White supremacy. Conveniently, referring to Whites as white has the effect of refusing to acknowledge White culture and its heritage, especially in relation to other cultures and heritages. It also reinforces White privilege and diminishes any structural inequalities brought about by history. Colors, after all, have no history.

        So if you insist on referring to Whites as white, I think you should at least be honest about what you're doing and why.

  • KatherineP

    As a youngster, I used to be perplexed when taking one of the state-required tests (or the PSAT, SAT & ACT at age 13, so around 1993) and I was required to fill in the bubble that asked my ethnicity; since amongst all the standard classifications was “Jewish.” Now, technically I WAS Jewish–my mother was raised in the faith and my father converted to satisfy her and her mother upon marriage. I however, was an early Agnostic and could not understand why mine was the sole religion listed among a bevy of ‘racial classifications.’ Why no Christians? Muslims? Hindus? Was it because they are instead Caucasians, Arabs and Indians? Had no one HEARD of conversion–more importantly, that race and religion are not [necessarily] intertwined?

    By the time I was older and taking these tests “at the normal time,” I understood that much of “being Jewish” is a cultural experience–however, by that time it had been removed as a racial classification on such listings.

    Now, I do not identify my race as Jewish. If forced to, I’d classify myself as “White.” Not because I am a supremacist…Far from it–I am riddled with more ‘White Guilt” than anyone I know and have been HEAVILY involved in fighting for equal rights in the Black community (especially while living in and going to grad school in Southside Chicago–where, coming from SF and Oakland, I had NO idea such segregation and outright racism were still at play in America). Instead, because like many American (and modern) Jews, giant handfuls of my family history and lineage were obliterated during the Holocaust. Without the oral traditions and mementos of my dead relatives, we have little to no way of knowing our roots in any depth.

    Plus, like many other ‘White Americans’ what little we THOUGHT we knew, even on my father’s side turned out to be false. (All these years my grandpa thought he was English and Irish, just to find out–thanks to the Internet–that his surname and nearly immedite family tree are French.) I think its fallacious to conclude your assumptions that MOST American’s identify with a ‘external’ lineage these days.* With the exclusion of some 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, much of this is soon lost and even sooner obliterated by the intra-marriage that occurs in this melting pot of ours.

    My point is (in the TL;DR version ;-) that there’s a great many of us who, if forced, have nothing but “white” to define ourselves by. Of course, I’d rather see such classifications enhanced beyond skin color–if not obliterated completely. But until then, if we’re going to accept these archaic and (appropriately) Neanderthalic delineations of Black and White (though Yellow, Brown, and Red have thankfully escaped into the PC-land garbage dump) then we might as well capitalize them both as no matter WHAT the terms connote, they are actively being used as adjectative classifications and deserve the respect of Grammar if nothing/no one else.

    *Especially just based off of the TWO sources you cited above which seem to disprove what you’re arguing??? I think people submitting their DNA to analysis and inclusion in these ‘studies’ shows precisely how UNknowledgeable Americans / ‘Whites’ ARE about their genetic make-up/racial histories.

    P.S. Although I came across your entry on the matter much later than Toure’s, I’m beginning to believe–based on dates alone–that he COMPLTELY RIPPED YOU OFF without citing you appropriately. And I mean nearly word for word, man! As an academic, I’m totally pissed on your behalf and think you should be too!

    P.P.S. Th “e” is wonky on my keyboard, so please forgive and misspellings above!

  • Katherine Parrick

    As a youngster, I used to be perplexed when taking one of the state-required tests (or the PSAT, SAT & ACT at age 13, so around 1993) and I was required to fill in the bubble that asked my ethnicity; since amongst all the standard classifications was “Jewish.” Now, technically I WAS Jewish–my mother was raised in the faith and my father converted to satisfy her and her mother upon marriage. I however, was an early Agnostic and could not understand why mine was the sole religion listed among a bevy of ‘RACIAL classifications.’ Why no Christians? Muslims? Hindus? Was it because they are instead Caucasians, Arabs and Indians? Had no one HEARD of conversion–more importantly, that race and religion are not [necessarily] intertwined?*

    By the time I was older and taking these tests “at the normal time,” I understood that much of “being Jewish” is a cultural experience–however, by that time it had been removed as a racial classification on such listings.

    Now, I do not identify my race as Jewish. If forced to, I’d classify myself as “White.” Not because I am a supremacist…Far from it–I am riddled with more ‘White Guilt” than anyone I know and have been HEAVILY involved in fighting for equal rights in the Black community (especially while living in and going to grad school in Southside Chicago–where, coming from SF and Oakland, I had NO idea such segregation and outright racism were still at play in America). Instead, because like many American (and modern) Jews, giant handfuls of my family history and lineage were obliterated during the Holocaust. Without the oral traditions and mementos of my dead relatives, we have little to no way of knowing our roots in any depth.

    Plus, like many other ‘White Americans’ what little we THOUGHT we knew, even on my father’s side turned out to be false. (All these years my grandpa thought he was English and Irish, just to find out–thanks to the Internet–that his surname and nearly immedite family tree are French.) I think its fallacious to conclude your assumptions that MOST American’s identify with a ‘external’ lineage these days.** With the exclusion of some 1st and 2nd generation immigrants, much of this is soon lost and even sooner obliterated by the intra-marriage that occurs in this melting pot of ours.

    My point is (in the TL;DR version ;-) that there’s a great many of us who, if forced, have nothing but “white” to define ourselves by. Of course, I’d rather see such classifications enhanced beyond skin color–if not obliterated completely. But until then, if we’re going to accept these archaic and (appropriately) Neanderthalic delineations of Black and White (though Yellow, Brown, and Red have thankfully escaped into the PC-land garbage dump) then we might as well capitalize them both as no matter WHAT the terms connote, they are actively being used as adjectative classifications and deserve the respect of Grammar if nothing/no one else.

    *And what of those Ethiopian Jews who joined our synagogue during those same confusing years for me…That family (and others) of Black, truly African-American–recent/first generation immigrants–individuals who also happened to be Jewish (for MANY generations). What box where they to pick? The one that cited their skin color or their religion/culture? I’d bet a paycheck they chose the “race” option in the Race section of the test…Why did i have to pick my religion? Because it was an archaic classification that disappeared within ten years…just as many of our current ones will as they world’s populations continue to expand, assimilate and (I believe a crass word can’t hurt in a crass discussion~) ‘interbreed.’

    **Especially just based off of the TWO sources you cited above which seem to disprove what you’re arguing??? I think people submitting their DNA to analysis and inclusion in these ‘studies’ shows precisely how UNknowledgeable Americans / ‘Whites’ ARE about their genetic make-up/racial histories.

    P.S. Although I came across your entry on the matter much later than Toure’s, I’m beginning to believe–based on dates alone–that he COMPLTELY RIPPED YOU OFF without citing you appropriately. And I mean nearly word for word, man! As an academic, I’m totally pissed on your behalf and think you should be too!

  • I think the argument that white should not be capitalized because white people in the majority don’t tend to think of themselves that way should be revisited. Whiteness and white privelige are constructs with real consequences and need to be recognized as such if we are to dismantle the white supremacy power structure. The biggest problem I have as a white person who attempts to be a Black ally is educating my fellow white people that we do experience privelige as a result of our whiteness. I think the lack of identifying as white is part of the problem insofar as if you don’t give identify as white, you can pretend that you don’t benefit from white privilege and can continue dismissing the real problems that Black people experience as a result of institutionalized racism. I’m not necessarily saying that capitalizing white when referring to whiteness or white people is the solution but I believe continuing to allow white people to pretend they are anything but than white only reinforces current white supremacist power structure.

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